Forget guesswork, gritty Gators just need to win

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Florida senior guard KeVaughn Allen shoots over LSU forward Kavell Bigby-Williams (11) in overtime Wednesday in Baton Rouge, La. Florida won 82-77. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

You thought you were out.

And they pulled you back in.

Less than two weeks ago, Florida’s NCAA Tournament hopes were on life support. On Wednesday night, the plucky Gators came up with the huge win they needed in beating No. 13 LSU in Baton Rouge. As a result, we can seriously discuss the chances that Florida makes the Big Dance … maybe for the first time all season.

Tournament nuts like yours truly have been following the new NET Rankings since early in the year. We’ve paid attention to the Bracketologists even if we used more grains of salt than a margarita bartender.

Now it’s getting interesting. Florida has five games to play in the regular season and then the SEC Tournament to finish fluffing up its resume.

Three of those games come in succession — Missouri, Vandy and Georgia. The three teams are holding up the bottom of the league with a combined 4-35 record in SEC games. Two of those games are at home.

Of course, we also know the challenges of this team and how important it is for these guys to keep their edge. There’s no trouble with you and I looking at the last five games as long as coach Mike White’s team only worries about 4 p.m. on Saturday.

So here’s what it looks like according to the NET Rankings, but let’s start with a caveat. This is the first year of these ultra-secret rankings so we’re still not sure exactly how the selection committee is going to deal with them. Is it going to be strictly by the numbers?

But we know Florida is at No. 31 despite its 11 losses and despite a lack of big-time wins (LSU notwithstanding). The Gators have only one bad stumble (at home to South Carolina) and are reaping the dividends of a difficult schedule. Not only in the metrics, but on the court.

Florida is back in the picture because of this current three-game win streak with two road victories over Alabama (a bubble team) and LSU (which still has a chance to win the conference). It is significant, too, that Florida is playing its best basketball late in the season and has a chance to take momentum into Selection Sunday.

Oh, yeah, I promised you the rest of the schedule.

Missouri (NET 92).

At Vanderbilt (NET 131).

Georgia (NET 119).

LSU (NET 16).

At Kentucky (NET 5).

As you can see, Florida can’t do much in the next three games. Except win. The last thing this team needs on a teetering resume is another bad loss.

The SEC as a whole may not reach its record number of teams in the tournament (eight) last year, but it should still be in fine shape.

Kentucky and Tennessee are battling for No. 1 seeds. LSU is a lock. So is Auburn. Mississippi State and Ole Miss appear to be in. The league needs Florida to finish well to make it seven.

Alabama is 52 in the NET and has had some numbing losses of late. Arkansas, forget about it. The committee will have a real dilemma with South Carolina if it wins 11 or 12 games in the SEC, but has a terrible NET (81 right now).

But this is about Florida, a team given up for dead after three double-digit losses in a row to start this month. And no matter what happens the rest of the way, this team of somewhat misfit parts deserves credit for the effort part of the equation.

As America tries to decide what Zion Williamson should do with his future, it’s teams like this Florida one that make college basketball so interesting.

The Gators are knee-deep in the argument. And no matter how you feel about this team, no matter how many times you’ve flung the remote at the TV this year, it beats the alternative.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

39 COMMENTS

  1. PAT: I love the numbers game! As an Engineer, I’m always into the numbers. Keep it going. Again, I’m not a basketball super knowledgeable person. I don’t understand the “big guys” being allowed to bully their way through two defenders and almost never get called for charging, etc. But for some reason, I watched the whole LSU game. By playing the Freshmen, White has found a way to develop a different team than the one he had just a month ago. These guys are now playing with purpose, even with no dominate big inside guys, like the other teams all seem to have. Mike White is at least a “good coach”. It was interesting how Hudson and Kavon showed up just enough to win the game at the end of regulation and OT?

  2. Inside sources say that Coach White started coaching better after reading some of the critics on this board a few weeks ago stating that his players never develop. He has also decided to try to recruit some taller guys, as he didn’t realize that would help until he read it on here 😂😂

  3. I pull hard for this team because, well, I’m a Gator. But…the NIT might be the right place for them. That might give them an opportunity to taste some success (confidence matters), and continue building something. The way they are currently constructed there is virtually no hope that they can win 2 games in the tourney. And very little hope that they can compete in the first game as a 10, 11, or 12 seed. I am not bashing them. They are what they are. Offensively challenged. Undersized. Defensively excellent (unless they meet a dominant big). – Not sure about anyone else, but I watched the UNC/Duke game right after ours. The reality is those teams are playing an entirely different game then the Gators are, and that’s not going to change this year.

    • Confidence does matter, which is why stumbling at the end of the season to find themselves in the NIT would not be a positive thing. They are on as much of a roll as they have been on. If they can ride it a bit longer, make it to the tourney, and win a game, they will be better set for success next season.

      • Indeed, the NIT would not be helpful. The opening round of the NCAA Tournament might just find the Gators defense ramped up even more and will shock and stifle its opponent. Still, one and done the the Dance is better than playing in the N(ot) I(mportant) T(ournament). If you’re not in the Dance, The Thrill Is Gone.

        • SpringHill, I love your explanation of what NIT stands for and I am with you about the need to at least get into the NCAA field. In my view, if you don’t make the Big Dance, then go home and start practicing to dance better next season! Playing in the NIT is like getting a “participation” trophy in kid’s sports. I am old enough to remember when the NIT had some prestige, but that was back when the NCAA tourneys included only 24 to 32 teams (or even fewer), not the current 68. As we say in the business world, “Go big or go home”!!

    • Scrud, on which planet do you reside? The NIT would be good for this team? Winning in the NIT does absolutely nothing for a program’s confidence — it only makes it easier for your rivals to negatively recruit against you.
      Please don’t compare the level that UNC and Duke are playing as being way beyond UF at this point — there are only a handful of teams playing at that level. That has absolutely NOTHING to do with playing in the NCAA Tournament. The only way you can create some magic is to be on the stage.

      • SparkyGator,

        I was thinking of Billy’s down years when the team ended up in the NIT. I always figured that at least the team would have a shot at dominating a weaker field. Never quite worked out that way. Getting bounced from the NIT as a major program is just humiliating as heck.

  4. Throwing the remote at the TV. Pat, you know me so well. This team has been super frustrating. And as is typical of sports fandom, that’s mostly on me as a fan. I’m going to chalk a lot of that up to expectations. A basketball team with (3) seniors (Allen, Hayes, Hudson) who have not just matriculated, but who have contributed for years SHOULD have high expectations – both in production and leadership. All (3) inexplicably stumbled out of blocks. Allen and Hayes have righted their ships. Hudson is finally looking like he’s getting his feet under him. If he can ramp up his production/efficiency it will really help the other guys. Lack of size (no Egbunu or Gak) has been a bigger problem than I would anticipate.

    What’s maddening is the metrics.

    1. The Gators are a really good defensive team (defensive efficiency and the eye test). Team stats are a funny thing though. The Gators D stats benefit from their plodding, time-chewing offense. But they DO D-up for the most part. They are ALSO the team that has blown leads and suffered mental boners at the worst times (Auburn the most egregious lapse).

    2. Andrew Nembhard has done yeoman’s work as a true freshman point guard. His assist/turnover ratio is terrific. He sees the floor well and anticipates passing opportunities on a level few can match in college. He’s not the passing savant that White Chocolate was. Then again, who is? But Nembhard is, to use the baseball expression, the human rain delay. This team NEVER gets fast break baskets. And teams have figured out they can guard him 30-40′ away from the basket because he can’t get by guys.

    3. Another disconnect is almost no inside offensive game- the Gators constantly blow bunnies and seem to get 4 or 5 layups blocked every game – versus astounding offensive rebounding numbers. Huh? How are these things possible at the same time?

    But as Pat writes, they are still in it. Strength of schedule helps. But you’d sure like to have a couple more hides on the wall (Mich. St. and TCU for instance). But Coach White is doing a good job of getting the guys to accentuate the positives (shooting and perimeter defense). Now go practice some layup drills and free throw shooting.

  5. All we Gator fans (and sports writers) can do is watch the product on the court and comment based on results vs. expectations every season.

    Since the Gators HAVE WON 2 BB NCs, “expectations” are for the Gators to make the Big Dance AND compete for a NC every season. This Gator team may barely make it to the Big Dance, but has close to ZERO chance of competing for a NC, mainly because they lack healthy big guys (6’-9” and above) and don’t consistently make free throws. So, this season’s “results” may NOT meet “expectations.”

    CMW obviously sees the same shortcomings fans see in this Gator team, BUT unlike fans, HIS JOB is to DO SOMETHING about them. He’s had 4 seasons to recruit big guys and only managed to land 3, Hayes and Bassett at 6’-9” and Gak at 6’-11”, with Gak spending more time in the training room than on the court. For comparison, the 2007 NC Gator team had 5 big guys on it, including future NBA stars Brewer, Noah, Horford and 6th-Man-of-the-Year Richards. That is the number of big guys the Gators should strive to have on the roster EVERY SEASON. Coming up short of 5 scholarship big guys on the roster EVERY SEASON should be considered a recruiting FAILURE.

    CMW also obviously must see the Gator starters’ MISERABLE PERFORMANCE at charity line over the past 2 seasons. Why he continues to allow players who make just over half their free throws to even sniff the court during games is simply maddening. The message should be painfully clear to all players (under 6’-9”) that if they don’t make at least 2/3 of their free throws in practices, they ride the bench during games. Having players routinely play significant minutes EVERY SEASON, with free throw make percentages below 60%, should be considered a coaching FAILURE.

    If in another season, BOTH of those FAILURES are NOT significantly improved upon, it’ll be up to Scott Stricklin, who obviously ALSO sees the FAILURES, to decide whether Gators BB performance over the 5-year CMW run is acceptable at UF….. or NOT…. and do something about THAT…. because THAT….. is HIS JOB!

    Go Gators!!!

    • Allen FT%: 88%
      Ballard: 75%
      Bassett: 63%
      Hudson: 64%
      Johnson: 71%
      Nembhard: 72%
      Locke: 75%

      But don’t let pesky facts stand in the way of your hot takes!

      This team isn’t 15-11 because of free throws. This team is 15-11 because they are starting three freshmen who, prior to this year, have never played college basketball before and, more importantly, have never played together. Couple that with the regression of Hudson and the continued inconsistency of Allen, and you have all the ingredients of a team that is going to struggle early on. It sure would be nice to have more bigs but there are only so many to go around, you know?

      Also, the fact that this team is now 15-11 despite all of these shortcomings is … wait for it … evidence that Coach White IS a pretty damn good coach. It’s kinda remarkable. Yet low information Gator fans STILL come on here and trash him. I don’t get it. I really don’t.

      • You are absolutely correct CMS. Where it comes to BB, I’m a “low information Gator fan.”

        I won’t challenge your free throw stats, although I will observe that they must have been brought down somewhat by all the bricks I watched them throw at the rim in the Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee games. Nothing helps an average like shooting when there’s no pressure on you, I guess.

        As for CMW’s record at UF, here it is:

        2016 – 21-15 with a loss to George Washington in the NIT
        2017 – 24-7 with a loss to South Carolina in the NCAA Elite 8
        2018 – 21-13 with a loss to Texas Tech in the NCAA Round of 32
        2019 – 15-11 so far with a chance to make the tourney

        This “low information Gator fan” does NOT see steady improvement year-to-year. What I see is an AVERAGE tournament team staying pretty average. Perhaps, that is adequate at a “football school” and Gator Nation shouldn’t ever EXPECT a shot at regularly running with the big dogs in basketball, the way we had it with Donovan, who had us in the Final 4 in his 4th season.

        I’m not pushing to fire CMW after this season, or ever, if his performance so far is considered satisfactory by Scott Sticklin. If he’s NOT satisfied, then he should reevaluate after next season. After 5 seasons, in the age of one-and-done, what we see from CMW is what we’ll get.

    • If you follow basketball recruiting StL, you will probably realize that none of these current SR players count as recruits for Coach White, and even the JRs he would have been a couple years behind most D1 programs in his ability to recruit them and form relationships. To me, the 3 freshman this year, and next years incoming class are what will determine Coach White’s future for the time being. We still need some bigger forwards, that’s a given, but the players he has truly had time to recruit are the future of the program.

      • Sparky, if we accept your premise on recruiting, then CMW has only managed to land ONE big man on this team that is truly HIS recruit, Bassett. THAT is pathetic.

        Smallish, fast break, 3-point shooters that play good team D (provided they shoot better than 65% from the foul line) will be fun to watch and will get the Gators to the Big Dance every season. But, likely as not they’ll NEVER make it to the Final 4, let alone win a NC against the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke or Kansas.

    • Come on, man — White can coach. He’s had some bad luck with injuries to players inside — you want to blame him for that I’m sure. I suppose Zion Williamson at 6-7 does not qualify under your standard as a “big man?” Gotta be 6-10? 6-11?
      Chill out, brother.

      • Carlton, you are what your record says you are. Based on their record the past 2 seasons, the Gators are an average BB team. Maybe, that’s good enough at a “football school.” Scott Stricklin will have to decide that… after next season reaches this point.

        Based on Sparky’s reply right above yours, White’s Elite 8 team in 2017 was essentially recruited by Billy Donovan. And almost ALL of Donovan’s starters throughout his tenure in Gainesville were better than 70% shooters from the foul line.

        By Donovan’s 4th season at UF, he had the Gators in the Final 4. How much longer, beyond next season, do you propose to give CMW to get us there again?

        • StL, love your football comments, Gator, but I think you’re a little off here. You’re right that BD had the Gators in the NC game in year 4, but he followed that up with 5 straight seasons of first weekend exits from the Dance, two of which were first round upsets. He followed that with the two straight NC’s, which he followed with two straight NIT’s. He then bounced back with three straight Elite Eights and a Final Four. You’re also correct that BD recruited most of the players on CMW’s 2017 Elite Eight team, but they’re also the same players he coached to a losing record and no postseason play in his final year.

          CMW came in, talked Hayes and Allen into honoring their commitments to BD, added Leon, and later Barry, developed those players, and led them to the Elite Eight in year two. That was after losing Egbunu in February and being forced to start Hayes, an effort player who’s really a good backup but not a very effective starter at this level. He followed that up with a trip to the Round of 32, missing the Sweet 16 by one shot.

          You’re also right that this year’s team has been average until recently, but average teams don’t make the Round of 32 as last year’s team did. If you have to reach the Sweet 16 to be better than average, then over half of BD’s teams at UF were average at best.

          Regarding the recruitment of bigs, you missed a couple. CMW brought in Leon and signed Chase Johnson and Stokes who were 4 stars, as is the incoming Payne. The Gators were set to start this season with 6 scholarship players at 6′ 8″ or taller, but lingering and new injuries took a heavy toll.

          BD’s teams did always have good FT shooters except when they didn’t. On the two NC teams, only Brewer and Green shot better than 70% among the starters. Although, I will say they shot it well in the clutch. BD did have other excellent FT shooters, most notably Michael Frazier and Kenny Boynton, but CMW has had Barry, Egor, and Allen, the Gators all-time leader.

          With two 5 stars and a 4 star, the 2019 recruiting class may be the best ever at UF. We need to be patient and see what White can do with them. If he can’t make a deep tourney run with them in a couple of years, then maybe his time is up. Until then, I’m on his side.

          • Joe, I really enjoyed your detailed response. There’s A LOT about Gator BB that I don’t know and your details helped fill in many gaps. I’m far more informed about Gator football.

            That said, I have some questions that don’t require many details to answer. What makes CMW more deserving of a 6, or maybe 7 year trial run than Zook, Muschamp and McElwayne, who only got 3 or 4 years before being let go. Heck, McElwayne delivered a couple of SEC East titles and was still dumped in the middle of his 3rd season, with Gator Nation’s full approval. Is Gator BB less deserving of elite coaching than Gator FB, or is CDM just more likable than those other guys?

            I’m a firm believer that a college head coach taking a job at UF should get a full 4 years to bring in his own recruits and implement his own system. If after that, he hasn’t delivered elite performance, another coach should be given a chance.

            I measure elite performance the same way in both sports, appearances in their respective Final 4s. This is CMW’s 4th season and unless this team finds a new gear, he will have delivered zero Final 4 appearances. Still, I support his return next season, but if THAT team doesn’t make the Final 4…..

      • Agree Carlton. Gator nation needs to recognize CMW can coach. I’ve read way too many negative comments on these boards. Fans have the right to criticize, of course.

        The reality though is that since CMW has been here his team defensive rankings are always strong. To get a group of individuals to play within a team concept and give maximum effort. That’s coaching. People forget Donovan brought in Larry Shyatt, who helped tremendously with defensive concepts. UF went from bottom to SEC to the top in one year after that hire.

        CMW’s out of bounds plays also generally get good looks. He draws up some great plays that gets buckets. Hayes dunk against LSU being the latest. That’s coaching.

        The biggest issue this team is facing, IMO, is that very few of the upperclassmen are triple threats (shoot, pass, dribble). Most of them are good at one thing, when they need to be good at two. I mean… am I the only one whose palms sweat when Allen is playing point? Was anyone surprised he had a turnover after being doubled in overtime against LSU? We all know Hayes’ offensive limitations, but that kid works his tail off for the team. And so does Allen and all the players. We all saw Allen sucking air in overtime at LSU. He was maxing out. That requires coaching to get maximum effort. Do I wish Ballard, who is one of the more talented kids, not play out in front of his skis all the time? Yep. His brain is going 2x faster than his body. If he could slow the game down in his head, his game would elevate.

        So could I critique player development? Maybe. Sometimes there are simply player limitations. But all the freshmen have improved with experience, which is the best teacher. You have to get the minutes. I remember Bassett improving last year when he got into the rotation. I do think CMW could be better with his rotations. Recruiting? Sure. Superior talent solves a lot of issues. But CMW can coach.

        I think what we are seeing with this team is how Cheese made space for Allen, Hudson, Koulechov, Barry, et al in years past and they could do what they did best. I like Nembhard (I prefer big point guards), but his game is way different than Cheese’s. Nembhard is a half court guy and hasn’t shown that straight line speed to put a defense on its heels. Stokes has a great sense about the game. The game is really slow to him. He reminds me of Livingston Chatman, which is a compliment. KJ has lots of smarts too. Athleticism off the charts. Locke has huge upside if he develops a mid range, drive game off of his outside touch. Lots to be excited about regarding the program.

        Anyway… if I had one criticism of CMW’s offense, is I would like to see more action away from the ball to free up guys because they seem to have a hard time breaking it down themselves or in a two man game (think Brad Stevens system at Butler). I’ve watched most of the games this year, and I was desperate to see a back door lob to KJ. CMW put one in against LSU from an off ball pick.

        CMW knows what he is doing. He’s working hard to maximize this group, and the players have bought in. He’s a good coach.

    • StL – My expectations aren’t informed by Championship teams from 10 years ago. They are based on the presence of (3) seniors and a junior who played a lot in their careers. The top shelf “one and done” factories don’t have that. There’s lots of ways to skin a cat. And it’s been shown over and over in the Tournament that senior leadership (especially at the guard position) can undo superior, raw talent (especially in a single elimination scenario). The part where freshmen are carrying the water bodes well for the future. But they should be nice complimentary players this year – not team leaders.

      • GatorGopher, I agree with you in theory. In practice, this Gator team, with 3 seniors and a junior, might not even make the Big Dance. Let’s hope they just turned a corner and will leverage all that experience to qualify and make a deep run in the tournament. I, for one, won’t be holding my breath.

  6. BTW, a great photo! Hope someone will put it on canvas!

    Florida and LSU! For all those people that scoff at Florida’s sports history prior to winning championships, this game speaks to those and says it all. Surely Florida’s history is replete with such games like this in its magically history of sports. And like so many competitions, will likely be void of a season championships and will fade into generations to become just another game. Its significance to the sport and fan base will be forgotten over time and be overlooked by those who know only enough to lament about games and teams that have won championships. This was a great game and should not be forgotten. Gators all over the world clenched and held tightly to the arms of their chair, their friend’s arm, or whatever was near, hoping desperately that the score would hold on in its battle against the clock. The magnificent play by the Gators was a moment in time that transcended all us who bleed the Orange and Blue! We loved that moment! Finally, when the men in striped shirts signaled that the game was over and the score confirmed that the Gators had won, we all took that deep deep breath that filled our bodies, minds, spirit, and soul with something greater than a mere game. It’s was heavenly. Let us not let this game become another historical win that gets lost in the annals of great games and void of a bookmark…a championship or deep run in the NCAA Tournament… Go Gators!

  7. Happy to have helped, Sparky.
    As for the rest of the season and the tournament……..we will see.
    I’m just thrilled to see a team playing loose and free……actually going inside with penetration and passing!!!!!
    Actually seeing what the younger players can do.
    Has been a while.

  8. I never thought they were out so don’t need to be pulled back in. They may have been on life support briefly right after losing three straight to UK, Aub, and UT but were never out of the picture.

    Their KenPom and NET rankings were a respectable sub 40 all season. Lunardi and most bracketologists had them “in” the dance all season.

    Not to pat myself on the back but just wanted to make a case for all Gator fans who aren’t bipolar.